The unfolding story of the Rossetta mission - and its comet lander robot Philae - is one of the big real-life 'to boldly go' dramas of recent times: The mission has swung from triumph to near disaster and back again, with the mothership taking amazing close up pictures before being force into deep space by the increasingly dangerous comets activity, the lander being the first human craft to land on a comet before being lost in the comets valleys for seven months and then dramatically returning.
|Even the Starship Enterprise was actually supposed to explore the universe. Yep, pay attention and there's, like, fifteen whole seconds of that every episode before the space babes and Kirk vs lizard fistfights break out...|
|Above: An ESA infographic on the pit Rosetta has been studying.|
It looks like they're distant cousins to terrestrial sinkholes, and this tells us some unexpected things about how the inside of the comet is put together:
The pits range in size from around ten meters to over two hundred, and some are over two hundred meters deep. Their sides are lined with fractures, out of which the evaporating gasses from the interior gush. There are currently eighteen pits of interest on he comes surface, at various stages of growth, and they appear to tell the same story: The pits begin as vents, which are powered by evaporating ices n the subsurface. Over time the evaporation hollows out a cavern beneath the vent, and eventually the roof collapses, revealing a pit. Now the pit itself is exposed to the sunlight the erosion begins to move back from the pit walls, leaving a steep and jagged edge to the pit. Eventually the volatiles within reach of the surface are depleted, and the vent reaches a more gentle shape, and shuts down
So that's one mystery (tentatively solved) But what else has Rosetta told us so far? Here're just a few of the results released so far:
- Rosetta may have found the most fundamental building blacks of comets and icy planets, preserved in the comet
- 67-P is actually two comets stuck together
- It has organic molecules.. lots and lots of them
- Water molecules are broken up by electrons in the comets 'atmosphere'
- In the warm parts of the comet the surface is covered in dust, but in cooler regions meter sized chunks of ice are exposed.
- 67-P has definite surface regions with different properties and colours
- 67-P's water wasn't from the same source as Earth's water
- And here and here are even more papers from Rosetta and Philae
Meanwhile, at Ceres...
Everyone is still scratching their heads. The bright spots on the surface, the one's that are visible from Earth? Yeah, we still can't work those out. And, as well as bright spots which no one can work out....
|Above: The Cerean bright spots, shown as a morph from the sun being high in their sky to the Sun being low in their sky. Courtesy of unmanned spaceflight.com|
|Above: The mysterious mountain/pyramid. It might be the cebntral peak of a masive impact crater.... but an impact that bg would be close to the size needed to shatter Ceres to rubble...|